In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor for charges of “gross indecency.” Over his time at Reading Gaol, the Irish poet and playwright was granted special permission to keep books in his cell, amass a small library, and leave his light on late to read them.

Among the first titles requested were The Confessions of St Augustine and The Renaissance by Walter Pater, a key artistic text that helped inspire Wilde’s aesthetic. In one letter asking for new books, Wilde wrote: “The Library here contains no example of Thackeray’s or Dickens’s novels. I feel sure that a complete set of their works would be as great a boon to many amongst the other prisoners as it certainly would be to myself.”

Though the celebrated writer would pass away just three years after his release, his wit and wisdom continues to inspire readers the world over. Find a list of the works included in Wilde’s prison library below (compiled by The Independent) and more insight into his personal library via Thomas Wright’s Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde.


Collected Works of Matthew Arnold

City of God by St. Augustine (also rec’d by Martin Luther King Jr.)

The Confessions by St. Augustine

Works by Charles Baudelaire

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The Prioress’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Divine Comedy by Dante (also rec’d by Patti Smith, Susan Sontag & Tina Turner)

La Vita Nuova by Dante

Collected Works of John Dryden

Trois Contes by Gustave Flaubert

La Tentation de St Antoin by Gustave Flaubert

Illumination by Harold Frederic

The Passes of the Pyrenees by Charles L Freeston

Faust by Goethe (also rec’d by Susan Sontag)

Brittany by Baring Gould

Collected Works of Hafiz

The Well-Beloved by Thomas Hardy

The Longer Poems of John Keats

Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature by William Paton Ker

The Courtship of Morrice Buckler: A Romance by AEW Mason

An Essay on Comedy by George Meredith

The History of the Jews by Henry Hart Milman

History of Latin Christianity by Henry Hart Milman

History of Rome by Theodor Mommsen

Juvenile Offenders by William Douglas Morrison

A History of Ancient Greek Literature by Gilbert Murray

Apologia Pro Vita Sua by John Henry Newman

Two Essays on Miracles by John Henry Newman

The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman

Essays on Grace by John Henry Newman

Provincial Letters by Blaise Pascal

Pensées by Blaise Pascal

The Renaissance by Walter Pater

Gaston de Latour by Walter Pater

Miscellaneous Studies by Walter Pater

Egyptian Decorative Art by WM Flinders Petrie

Letters and Memoir by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz

The Student’s Chaucer by Walter William Skeat

Collected Works of Edmund Spenser

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (also rec’d by Anthony Bourdain & Hayao Miyazaki)

Collected Works of August Strindberg

The Study of Dante by JA Symons

Richard Wagner’s letters to August Roeckel

Collected Works of William Wordsworth

(via The Independent)

Categories: Writers

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Oscar Wilde's Prison Library

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